“As the united South goes, so goes the nation.” These words by W.E.B. Du Bois explain the South’s strong influence on human rights issues in the United States. The South has often failed to pioneer change. Too frequently, its history of racial oppression and lynching has gone untold and unaddressed.
For far too long, policymakers have shied away from open and honest discussions about capital punishment’s deep connection to lynching, Jim Crow laws and racial oppression. Last month, the tide turned and we witnessed the demise of the death penalty in Virginia, the former home of the Confederacy.
With this step, Virginia shows us what is possible when we confront this country’s racist past, and acknowledge how racism permeates this country’s practices and laws.
Once this sordid history was laid to bare, a majority of lawmakers were willing to part ways with a practice that reflects a significant and shameful part of Virginia’s history. I applaud Gov. Ralph Northam for championing this effort. The dwindling number of states that continue to use the death penalty, especially in the South, should follow.
As a Black man, born and raised in the South, this issue is deeply personal to me. Not only was my father, Martin Luther King Jr., murdered, but my grandmother was also a victim of homicide. While many know the story of my father, years later, my grandmother was shot to death in our beloved Ebenezer Baptist Church. Both of these were heinous crimes, but despite our immeasurable grief, our faith and the racist roots of capital punishment led my family to reject the death penalty.